I found myself browsing the StartUp Britain web site the other day (year!). It’s backed by a number of big companies like Dell, Paypal and O2 (now BT, Intuit, Iris) as well as David Cameron, and founded by a group of well known entrepreneurs.
Set up to encourage enterprise in the UK, to give guidance, provide tips and special offers to start-ups. There’s plenty on there but often you just get a link to another web site to follow up on.
Then there’s the section on Brand and Design Services. (Which currently resides here)
Created I assume to ease the sourcing of a new business logo or new business web site, the drop down lists a number of sources including the Design Business Association (DBA) and the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD), two defacto governing bodies who do some good work in professionalising the industry but in reality encompass very few designers.
The real shame is two of the other links, one to Concept Cupboard and another to the awful logo design solution that is 99designs (now removed). Concept Cupboard was a new one on me, and on a positive note, it’s British. However in all other aspects, it’s a design competition site just like 99designs.
Taken at face value, these competition sites are great for a new business. In short, you write a brief and open your design requirements up to the world. Then dozens of creatives offer their interpretation of your brief and post them online. You get to give your opinion of each design, rating it and adding feedback, then designers take on board this feedback and submit updates.
After a set time, the competition ends and the client chooses their favourite design and the winning designer gets paid. It seems like a no brainier, pay about £160 (the average payout) for the creative skills of ten or twenty plus designers, well why not! This does seem a great way to get a new business logo, but you need to be aware of how it works and that certain unsatisfactory ‘rules’ will apply.
I can be confident when I suggest this, because I’ve tried it out, I have a profile on 99designs. Firstly, forget creativity. There just isn’t the time for a designer to offer any real flair. To up the odds of me actually getting some money from these competitions, I need to enter plenty of them. So I don’t want to spend too long on one in particular. I used to give myself about an hour for concepts for each brief, if I was especially efficient I’d bang out 4 or 5 designs if I was n a go-slow, maybe 1 or 2.
Next, it’s the little last minute tweak. This can take lots of forms but it’s essentially a designer pushing their concept to the top by either taking on some feedback and resubmitting their design or simply making lots of little edits (colour changes, slight variations in font). Both of these will put this design to the top of the list, thrusting it in front of the client moving other designs down the list and even off the page so it’s no longer considered, even if it’s a better design.
And the client doesn’t end up getting the best design, but often the prettiest. That’s because by putting the design brief into a contest, your stripping away the experience a designer has developed over his or her career. The client no longer employs a designer as a whole, and as a result doesn’t get to discuss designs with a critical and reasoned eye, but simply plucks a good looking logo or brand from the list.
Once the design has been chosen, don’t assume you’ll get what you need to brand your company. As a rule of thumb, the designer will send the original files to the client. You’ll have to hope that they will send it in a format you can open, not just an Adobe Illustrator file. And you’ll have to hope that the original file is up to scratch. When concepting files, I don’t set them up to be ready for the final job, I’ll work on this only when the client is happy. I won’t get technical but there’s lots to bear in mind when making final artwork ready for a printer, and for the sake of speed when designing concepts, I don’t consider them ‘print ready’.
I didn’t really start this as a rant against design competitions (although it feels good now I’ve got it off my chest). What I’m really annoyed with is that the Cameron backed StartUp Britain site is encouraging visitors to use design competition sites to get their new business logo. The links get equal weight as the ones to the DBA and CSD and it seems that a site encouraging Britain to build itself out of the tough times we are in should encourage new companies to use local British businesses to get their new business logo rather than US crowd sourced, low creativity sites.
Since this article was written, 99designs has been removed from the list of links (but remains a constant source of disappointing logos) and Chris Dodson from Concept Cupboard contacted me to offer some further differences between his site and 99designs, including providing non spec work opportunities. But it’s central role remains promoting speculative work where multiple designers undertake work, but only one gets paid.